Big and little in focus…

The first Apple blossom, Tostat, yesterday

The lockdown in France, now extended until somewhere in mid May, creates a strange state of continual tension. Forced to focus in, the mind explores small things, small changes, observes more than usual maybe in the garden. But tension exists continually with the global macro situation of countries battling, systems battling, people battling the hidden enemy. I think that I have adapted reasonably well to the changes in everyday life, but then, unexpressed distress is never that far from the surface- usually prompted by news of close family and friends or stories of loss. So, the early appearance of blossom in the garden set off tears this week, tears for earlier times when there were less big questions to address and maybe much more complacency.

Cherry blossom, Tostat, yesterday

The apple blossom in first flush is pink and embarassed to be out so early whereas the bitter cherry is self-assured, just a little early but who cares? And with the bright, sunny weather, not always warm till the afternoon, and sometimes misty in the mornings, buds are appearing

Libertia grandiflora was one of the first plants that I tried from seed, courtesy of the Hardy Plant Society. It slowly, slowly makes a stately clump of bright green strappy foliage, evergreen all year although looking tired by the New Year. And then, the fat buds hide themselves by sitting sideways on on the stem, so they are easy to miss on a quick fly-by. It will take the driest conditions and also is happy in moist conditions- a very tolerant plant.

Libertia grandiflora in bud, Tostat, March 2020

Last year, I planted five small clumps of Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ into terrible soil in full sun close to the Stumpery. Terrible in that it largely consisted of coarse sand and building rubble, mixed with old crumbling concrete. And here they are again, unbothered by their neglectful surroundings and bringing an air of pristine sophistication temporarily to a squalid little corner.

Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, Tostat, March 2020

Sometimes plants creep up on you. About 2 weeks ago, obscured by my weirdly right-angled Hedera helix ‘Erecta’, (which I must try and photograph so that you can see how odd it is), I noticed this tall, slim, strung out plant with shrubby stems- so clearly not a weed. Poking around at the bottom of it, having already decided that it closely resembled a Phlomis but with no memory of it all- I found a handwritten label from a great nursery in the Languedoc at Caunes-Minervois, ‘Le Jardin Champetre’. Phlomis cretica, it is. I might remember it when it flowers!

Phlomis cretica in bud, Tostat, March 2020

Our gas tank left us last month. A dramatic experience, as you can see. Our plan is to create a wildlife pond in the driest and hottest part of the garden. This may seem mad, but I think it will be fine, and anyway, what else interesting could be done with a giant hole. Getting started on it has been slow. But we are buckling down to it, and helped by the fact that nurseries are still taking and delivering online plant orders, there will be news as to progress. I have never had the chance to do this before, so it’s a whole new area of knowledge to get the head around, which does make it very worthwhile now that life is constricted.

The gas tank leaveth us, Tostat, February 2020

Back to the micro, and Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynabbie Gem’ is flowering- it is the very lightest shade of mauvey-pink so it easily looks white in bright sun. It has not been such a good plant as I had hoped, very stringy and tall, but it does cope with an exceptionally dry and hot part of the garden, so I shouldn’t be too hard on it.

Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynabbie Gem’, Tostat, March 2020
Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, Tostat, yesterday

This little tulip, Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’ is a fleeting thing. Very fragile and slender, I think it actually looks best partially closed, as the petals which open out white are a gorgeous muted pink on the underside. My photographs have not done it justice, I will try again.

Going, going, gone…

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Salvia confertiflora and ‘Anthony Parker’ mingling in the hall, Tostat, November 2017

That’s it.  First big cold spell of this autumn/winter last night with a frost of -2C but the recompense is beautiful sunshine this morning. And to be honest, given all the topsy-turviness of this year weather-wise, it feels better to be having the weather we should be having at this time of the year.

So, on Sunday, much lugging of pots, pruning of things, and then fleecing of the odd pot too big to bring in took place.  Yesterday I ran round and dug up the 3 plants that had been planted in- and managed to remember to bring only two of them into the house.  Result: one very brown and unhappy Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ outside this morning.

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Salvia Mexicana ‘Limelight’, Tostat, November 2017

It had only just flowered, and possibly the flowering had saved it’s bacon.  I am so disappointed with this plant!  I should have paid attention to Louis the Plant Geek.  he says, ‘Want the excitement? Accept the dullness. No pain, no gain.’  Louis is a brilliant blogger.  In my view, he has everything.  Good pictures, great, tested in his own garden information, a witty and astringent turn of phrase- and really detailed advice.  I bow down.

The thing is with ‘Limelight’, the dullness goes on for ever- well, given that it has been outside since April, precisely 7 months.  I am not yet sure that the gain outweighs the pain. Not to mention, that ‘Limelight’ is a thirsty so-and-so, bending leaves down every day in a sort-of-Mum-wait-for-me way.  And growth was stingy to say the least.  From the opposite, more rational point of view, these 2 plants were grown from seed last winter and it thrilled me that they germinated on a sunny windowsill.  And, in the first year, perhaps I am being unduly testy about the lack of performance till now.  So, Louis’ advice is:  sink it in a 3 litre pot into the ground, as opposed to planting it which I did, then at the first frost, cut it back and overwinter in a cool place.  The last part is easy: the big hall, codename IceStationZebra, in our house.

So, I have half-frozen one plant and saved the other plant.  I shall cut both down as Louis describes and hope that over-wintering will give them more of a headstart than they had last year- and meantime, allocate 2 x 3 litre pots for them for next year.  I shan’t be mean and ditch them.

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ had made it just in time to flower.  In fact, the cooler nights have brought out the golden tints at the ends of the petals, which really brings the flowerheads alive, I think.  They can stay outside for now, and I will move them to the outside barn so they don’t get drowned in too much winter wet.

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Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2017

This little Aussie plant, Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, was planted, new to me, about this time last year, and it turned out to be pretty robust in our sunny, dry border, happily shrugging off a spell of -10C last winter.  These are the first flowers on this little plant, and I am hoping that it will slowly bulk up to make a jolly 1m wide and high mound of light green foliage, pretty in itself and then these sweet spotted-throat white flowers in little groups.

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Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, Tostat, November 2017

And this shot of the back of the garden, looking West, in the last sunshine of yesterday afternoon, is a kind of  over-and-out shot, as the leaves on Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ which are so golden in this photograph, have almost all fallen off this morning.  Another season begins.

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November 2017, Tostat.

Wintering on…

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Winter dawn, Tostat, January 2017

Funnily enough, I really love winter for the light and the dark of it.  The light is mysterious in the morning, giving everything a ghostly paleness with a pale, bright sun coming up. We have had a more winter-like winter than in past years so far, with Christmas sandwiched between two long stretches of 2-3 weeks with temperatures around -4C or even -7C now and then.  The upside of this has been bright sunshine most days, the downside has been absolutely no rain.  So, apart from winter protection or coming inside for some plants, nothing has been stressed that much, as the winter wet is more of a killer than the cold.

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Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, Tostat, January 2017

I have even, so far, got away with experimenting with two forms of Westringia, which I am trying in the south-facing, normally dry as a biscuit, bit of the garden.  Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’ is a bushy small shrub, should get to about 1m allround, with a rosemary meets lavender look about it, silvery-grey-green narrow leaves and lilac blue flowers.  The Australians regard it as super-hardy, and so far mine has tackled -7C without flinching.  I wanted to try it, almost just because I could….there is no other reason, and I found it on ebay at a very good UK ebay nursery called hotplantcompany from whom I have bought quite a few things over the years. Now mine is looking very young and uninteresting at the moment, but here is what I hope it will become in good time, especially as it is hanging on very well right now.

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Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’. Photo credit: http://www.antzplants.com.au

The second Westringia was one of those lucky purchases. We made a rare sojourn out to a nursery en route to Toulouse, le Jardin Embalogue, just outside Mirande at the beginning of December. There we found another Westringia,  which led to my second Australian Westringia experiment.  Westringia rosmariniformis is very much like a lax rosemary plant to look at, and is a little less hardy on paper than its cousin above.  But again, it has made it thus far, and so I am hopeful. It may get bigger too, maybe 1.5m x 1.5m.

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Westringia rosmariniformis, Tostat, January 2017

In the frost, though, such delicacy is revealed.  Even the humble, though extraordinary spiders webs are crystalline as the finest of jewellery.  You just have to get up really close and be there as the sun rises, before it all melts away.  I love those moments.

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Tostat, January 2017